John’s still busy making a good life in Matamata
John Christophers has spent two-thirds of his life in Matamata and has ‘‘ enjoyed every moment of it, really’’.
The World War II and Korean War veteran will celebrate his 90th birthday this weekend with many of his closest friends and family.
‘‘ I’m rather looking forward to it actually,’’ he told the Chronicle last week.
Mr Christophers was born in Dunedin on February 15, 1924.
His family lived in Geraldine, south of Christchurch, before moving to the Central Otago town of Lawrence, where he attended school.
In 1940, they moved to Hamilton and Mr Christophers started work at the Bank of New South Wales, as his father and grandfather had before him.
It wasn’t long before he had joined a few sports clubs, as well as the Home Guard and Training Corps.
‘‘ It might interest people to know, that in the 1940s, in the Home Guard, we dug slit trenches in Garden Place.
‘‘Things were pretty rugged back then.’’
Mr Christophers had always wanted to be a pilot so, as soon as he was old enough, he joined the Royal New Zealand Air Force.
Unfortunately, he suffered from extreme air sickness and spent the remainder of World War II in Fiji and Tonga, paying troop wages and studying for a bachelor of commerce.
In 1950, when the chance came up to serve in Korea, he joined the army and was assigned to the 162 Battery.
He spent 12 months in Korea as a technical assistant or ‘‘tech ack’’ before returning to New Zealand to train reinforcements.
After leaving the army, he found it difficult to settle back into Hamilton, so applied for a job as an accountant for Tirau store owner Bill Rose.
‘‘ I went down and had an interview and I started that afternoon,’’ he said.
In 1953, the same year he moved to Matamata, he was married to Nancy Thomlinson in Palmerston North.
‘‘That was a pretty important year for me,’’ he said.
Through Mr Rose, he became involved in the Matamata Racing Club and held the position of secretary for 33 years.
‘‘As far as racing was concerned, those days there wasn’t much competition and the population of the town was only about 4000,’’ he said.
‘‘ We used to have races twice a year, on a Saturday in February and in July. About 4000 would go, racing was quite important in Matamata, even then.
‘‘We did make a bit of history by conducting a huge on-course jackpot in, I think, 1973. Between 30 and 40 thousand came to the races that day and we had to employ security to keep them off the course the night before.
‘‘ It went off pretty well actually. It was a nice winter’s day and we had one complaint from a guy who reckoned he was sold a frozen pie. I went and talked to the cafe and they said they had sold 20 thousand pies that day, so one frozen pie wasn’t a bad pass rate.’’
Mr Christophers is now a life member of the club.
He is also a life member of the Mill Crescent Kindergarten, which he helped to establish alongside Bob Black, Joe McEwen, Zorra White, and many others.
He and Nancy, a school dental nurse, had six children, who were all educated in Matamata.
Mr Christophers was on the Matamata Primary School committee for 10 years, as well as the Matamata College board of governors.
He was involved in the establishment of Pohlen Hospital, offering his services as an accountant, and was a trustee for many years.
For nine years, he was a councillor on the Matamata Borough Council, including six as chairman of works committee and six as deputy mayor.
He is a life member of the Matamata RSA and still actively involved in the Koreans Veterans Association.
Last year, he was one of 12 veterans to feature in a book published by the Minis- try for Culture and Heritage - The War That Never Ended: New Zealand Veterans Remember Korea.
He continues to offer his services to the community and reviews accounts for about 12 to 15 local organisations.
‘‘I’m more or less still in possession of my marbles I think,’’ he says.
One thing he will always remember about Matamata, he said, is how good people were to him in the early days.
‘‘It was certainly different back then.
‘‘I have never regretted coming here.’’
Milestone: Long-time Matamata resident John Christophers celebrates his 90th birthday this Saturday.